The Addams Family
2019, PG, 87 min. Directed by Conrad Vernon, Greg Tiernan. Voices by Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Allison Janney, Bette Midler, Chloë Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Elsie Fisher.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Oct. 18, 2019
Charles Addams was undoubtedly on to something. In 1938, he drew a clan of creeps, gave them his own name, and functionally created modern Goth with his Addams Family. There's something so simple about them: The idea of the weird neighbors who are still just regular people at heart. Sure, they may have battle-axes and sentient topiary, and regularly converse with their dead relatives, but the love and bonds between these frightful family members is so wonderfully alluring. Plus, have you seen that house? It's to die for.
After six TV shows and three films, the genteel and ghoulish Addams family still have that same allure – especially as the push toward a more cookie-cutter culture has never seemed more pressing. Those societal urges are given CG animated form in the bouffant-haired and blue-jean chic of Margaux Needler (Janney), a home improvement show host in the New Jersey town of Assimilation (this film being aimed squarely at the 8-to-12 market, don't expect the metaphor to get any less on-the-nose). No original-material-loving Nicole Curtis of Rehab Addict, she: When she first catches glimpse of the Addams family's Victorian mansion – a haunted asylum, naturally – her instinct is to bulldoze it to make way for some bland shiplap box and run these freaks out of town.
But can the indomitable spirit of the Addamses ever be overcome? Of course not! Paterfamilias Gomez (Isaac) and the morbid matriarch Morticia (Theron) are far too busy playing happy families with teen queen of darkness Wednesday (Moretz), while explosives-loving son Pugsley (Wolfhard) is panicking about having to perform the Mazurka, the Addams' rite of passage saber dance.
The script by Matt Lieberman and Pamela Pettler (the latter of whom was also attached to Tim Burton's doomed and lost attempt at an Addams adaptation in the early 2000s) keeps to the basics, the tensions between the Addamses and everyday folks. They pull out the themes of being yourself – mostly expressed through Wednesday and her friendship with Margaux's rebellious daughter, Parker (Fisher) – and aren't afraid to throw in lots of sight gags. After all, the original cartoons were single-panel, allowing for a complete lack of consequences: so when Uncle Fester (Kroll) gets shot in the back with a crossbow and just wonders if it's raining, everything is fine and funny.
Think of this as entry-level Addams, and that's also its limitation. Directors Vernon and Tiernan (abandoning the irksome, boring juvenilia of their work on Sausage Party) don't add anything new, and their decision to stick to generic contemporary CG animation is a lost opportunity for something more innovative. They clearly love the source material, sticking closely to Addams' original designs: so anyone expecting Gomez to be like Raul Julia's smoldering sex bomb from Barry Sonnenfeld's 1991 live-action version better prepare to have a thing for short, squat, toadlike men instead. At the same time they, like Sonnenfeld, can never really get past the defining 1964 TV version, with its instantly recognizable fingerclick theme. Kroll's Fester in particular is a spot-on imitation of Jackie Coogan's spittle-spraying happy-go-lucky freak. At least they admit it, with the closing credits containing a note-for-note animated re-creation of the original titles. Everyone, snap along! Du-duh-duh-duh (click click!)